16 November 2009

My idea of "success"

art not ads
Originally uploaded by allisongryski

I've been thinking about what it means to be a successful artist. It started in the middle of the night when I woke up and for some reason was thinking about a post I'd read on someone's blog about some new products that were being made with their art. There was something that made me wonder if that would feel like "success" for me. It's such a subjective term, that it bore more half-asleep thinking and then I woke up this morning with lots of thoughts on the subject.

It always sounds like a 1980's self-help concept to me when I hear some version of the widely accepted idea that "you have to visualise where you want to be if you're going to get there". But then again it sounds a bit mystical to me to accept the idea that you just do things and "the way will open up and the path will become clear as you go". I think I fall somewhere in between these two philosophies. I want to have some idea of what I'm trying to do, but not a fixed roadmap. You can't really know or plan anyway. The universe seems to take great delight in showing you otherwise. Have you noticed that? But all my thoughts about "success" start with my art, my ideas, and being able to create what I envision. They're not so much about the business aspect, which I think is a good thing, if a bit impractical. My dream is to be an artist, not a business. Of course to make money from art, you do have to do some things that make it a business, but that's a necessity, not the dream.

I'm starting to feel from a number of blogs out there that making money has become too much of the focus. They fill their blog sidebars with ads from "sponsors" (a weasel word for advertiser) and have frequent promotions from them. Something about this bothers me, perhaps particularly because these are artists whose blogs I enjoy reading otherwise. Of course artists need to eat too... but the commercialism of it does bother me a little. I dislike the omnipresence of advertising (just as a general principle, I think we're over-exposed to it) and it seems to have become quite common amongst those who can, to choose to make money like this. To use my voice for promotions like that is definitely NOT my goal. I really appreciated Keri Smith's posts about why she doesn't have advertising on her blog (here, here, here, and here (this last is the post I was actually thinking of when I googled and found all the earlier ones) and for the short version, the ad-free blog faq). The concept of drawing a line around what space is not for sale to corporations really resonates with just how I feel on the subject. It's not that all ads are evil all the time. It's that ads are EVERYWHERE now and I've drawn a line about where I think they should be in my life and my work and I won't move my line for money.

I don't mind when people are talking about their own art/ideas, but it's when their blog becomes a forum for advertising other businesses that I start to be a bit put off. While some of my thoughts may seem critical of how other artists who blog are choosing to make some income, that's not so much the point of it. This is more me figuring out what is consistent with my beliefs and what is right for me. I don't at all mind mentions of stores that they like to go to or friends who are also artists, or even the occasional review (of a store/product/whatever). It's all about the volume and intent... ie. low volume of endorsement and intent to share information/opinion, not advertising. That is certainly what I aim for.

I'm still so much at the beginning of my artistic journey, that I'm seeing the choices that others who are already more known, more "successful" have made, and trying to see how I want to be. I'm not really sure at this point exactly where I want it all to go, but I'm starting to get some idea of where I don't want it to go. It wouldn't be "success" to me, though many would see it that way, to end up making money from ads. I just kind of think ugh. I want to write, and create, and make things that make people really happy to have or see or read. To make the world a little bit more beautiful, a little better, to provoke some thought. And I want to have that beautiful feeling of creating from idea to finished product. That's what I'm aiming for, that happy feeling.

Success as a full-time artist does involve making money from my art, and I do need to figure out how I want to do that. But when I think of success, it's not just the money, it's also about success AS an artist, in the process of creating things. The funny thing is, I don't say this from some high morals against commercial or graphic artists (how could I with a sister who is doing her PhD on Canadian illustrators and has talked about how illustrators are often seen as somehow lesser artists because of the commercial element). It seems perfectly reasonable to me to make a living being paid to make art with a specific intent and even creating art that IS advertising. If we've got to have it, it would be nice if it was beautifully photographed and illustrated! I think it's defining success solely in terms of income that I dislike. It's a corollary that making money from advertising (and I mean by providing the forum for it, not creating the advertisment itself) is something I see as a symptom of that money = success mindset. Accordingly, since I think we are over-bombarded with advertising, that to me is what I think of as "selling out" or losing your artistic integrity by doing something for the money regardless of the effect.

All this started as vague thoughts at 3AM. It jumbled around in my head and didn't really make sense nor did I even know exactly what it was really about until I wrote it out. Sometimes it takes trying to explain some random feeling or thought to someone else to really understand what it was all about. So success for me is making a living by creating the things I envision and exploring and developing the skills to bring my ideas to life. An important part of my artistic integrity is to not compromise on what areas of my life and work I let the corporate world intrude on. And if you made it through this whole long post, thank you for your attention. I hope it was interesting and thought-provoking, even (particularly) if you don't agree with me.


Barbara Prime said... Best Blogger Tips

Thanks so much for sharing your ideas. I think I'm mostly with you. I suppose you could call what I do (designing knitting patterns) a type of art. I started it because I could make more money than just selling the finished product. However, I've always tried my best to put all my creative skills into my designs, and see them as a way for others to be creative as well. It still makes me a little uncomfortable talking about business on my blog, or promoting my shop, rather than just discussing designing, knitting, and creativity. I also think being self-published, as much as it is about having control over my own work, is also my way of avoiding that corporate/advertising world.

Anyway, that's my rambling way of saying "good for you" for sticking to what you believe :)

Barbara Prime said... Best Blogger Tips

Had another thought: while I think in one sense my business is a success because I love what I do, I also think it's somewhat unsuccessful because it doesn't leave me any time for my other creative hobbies (and not unsuccessful because I only make a little money, and am not well-known). If that makes sense.